South Korean employees of U.S. Forces Korea have been caught in something of a crossfire the result of Seoul and Washington's failure to hammer out a revised Special Measures Agreement.
Around half of the total nine-thousand South Korean employees currently working at the USFK have been put on unpaid leave starting Wednesday a move widely seen as the U.S. trying to gain an upper hand in defense cost-sharing talks with South Korea.
Seoul's chief negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, said late Tuesday the decision is regretful and expressed condolences to the employees and their families impacted by the furlough.
"Seoul and Washington have reached the final stages of the defense cost-sharing agreement after the last round of talks held in mid-March in the U.S.. The two sides have understood the furlough does not help support the defensive readiness of the combined military forces."
Jeong expressed regret towards the U.S.'s decision and said that the South Korean government had provided several options since February, both in terms of existing national defense budget and coming up with a separate agreement to prevent the furlough.
Nevertheless, Jeong said the two sides are doing their utmost to narrow their differences and to conclude the last phase of the defense cost-sharing negotiations.
The U.S. is believed to have asked Seoul for around four-billion U.S. dollars more than four times the amount paid last year.
Seoul have instead suggested a ten-percent increase from last year's figure of 8-hundred-70 million dollars.
The two sides have held seven rounds of SMA talks since last September but have been unable to strike a deal.
Kim Ji-yeon, Arirang News.